Debt Commission Adopts Reason Proposal on Selling Excess Federal Property

Yesterday, the White House debt commission released its report detailing suggestions for balancing the budget and reducing the national debt. The report includes as one of seven suggestions for making the federal government efficient that Washington identify and sell excess federal real property, something Reason has been urging for a number of years and detailed in a report earlier this year.

The commission’s co-chairs explained their reasoning in the report like this: “The federal government is the largest real property owner in the country, with an inventory of more than 1.2 million buildings, structures, and land parcels. Holding this unneeded property carries maintenance costs and forgoes the opportunity to sell potentially valuable property. We propose directing the GSA to loosen agency restrictions associated with selling unused buildings and land. This proposal will save at least $100 million in 2015.”

In June, I co-authored a paper with John Palatiello titled “Knowing What the Federal Government Owns: A how-to guide for managing federal property and assets.”

If Congress adopts this suggestion next year as a part of budget reform efforts they should consider making sure that agencies are enabled to effectively identify their excess property so that the divesting process gets maximum results.

The current database of excess property cited by the debt commission is built from inconsistent data managed mainly by the agencies themselves, each using its own inventory method, rather than an accurate, centralized inventory. This means there is even more excess property that can be sold to help the government balance its budget, expand the tax base, and encourage private sector economic growth.

As we suggest in our report, very basic steps, like using GIS-imaging to map all federal property or requiring all agencies to use uniform methods when reporting the status of their real property, have not been pursued. These kinds of initiatives would greatly aid in establishing a real property inventory to cut government waste, manage property more efficiently, keep track of stimulus and TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) spending and examine financial sector systemic risk oversight. While the debt commission estimates $100 billion could be saved from this act of fiscal responsibility, other estimates reach as high as $1.2 trillion if federal property management became truly efficient.